Asthma – vital update and guidance on how to help

Asthma is an extremely common chronic condition, with one in every eleven children affected. On average, there are two children with asthma in every classroom in the UK and over 25,000 emergency hospital admissions for asthma amongst children in the UK every year and many more when you include adult asthmatics too.

More children are rushed to hospital with asthma attacks in mid-September than any other time during the year. Asthma is a potentially life threatening condition and so it is really important to know how to help quickly in an emergency.

When someone has Asthma; their airways go into spasm which causes tightness of the chest; the linings of the airways become inflamed and produce phlegm leading to severe difficulty in breathing. Approximately 20 children of school age in England and Wales die every year from asthma and most deaths occur before the child reaches hospital.

Asthmatic lungs

Children should be prescribed an asthma inhaler and have their own medication at school. If they are able to manage their asthma themselves they should have their inhaler with them, and if not, it should be easily accessible to them. However, 86% of children with asthma have at some time been without an inhaler at school having forgotten, lost or broken it, or the inhaler having run out or been out of date. From the 1st October 2014 Schools have been allowed to hold a spare Salbutamol inhaler for emergency useThe guidance on the use of Emergency Salbutamol inhalers in schools can be found here.


Learn the triggers:

There are many different triggers for Asthma attacks and many asthmatics are well aware of their trigger points, although they may not always be able to avoid them.


If there is a family history of asthma, eczema or allergies there is a higher incidence that someone could develop asthma. Research has also shown that smoking during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of a child developing asthma. Similarly, children whose parents smoke are more likely to develop asthma.

Exercise can trigger attacks in some children, but children should not avoid exercise because they are asthmatic, however they should always have their reliever inhaler with them.

Symptoms of asthma:

shortness of breath
tightness in the chest
Often people find it particularly difficult to breathe out and have an increase in sticky mucus and phlegm
Not everyone will get all of these symptoms.

asthma with volumiser

NOTE: Encouraging someone to sit upright is generally helpful when dealing with breathing problems. Sitting the wrong way round on a chair may be a good position for them.

DO NOT take them outside for fresh air if it is cold –  as cold air makes symptoms worse.



Using a spacer device has been shown to deliver the medication much more effectively and increases the amount of the medication reaching the airways rather than hitting the back of the throat and this helps people to achieve far better control of their asthma.

Spacers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but not all spacers fit all types of inhalers – use the spacer prescribed with the inhaler. Spacers for smaller children are usually fitted with a face mask. There is considerable co-ordination required to use an inhaler without a spacer and this can lead to increased stress and worsening of symptoms. Always keep the spacer with the inhaler and have both available at all times.

How to help in an asthma attack

The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults:

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Be calm and reassuring as reducing the stress and keeping the casualty calm really helps them to control their symptoms and panic can increase the severity of an attackTake one to two puffs of the reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately – using a spacer device if available.

  • Sit them down, loosen any tight clothing and encourage them to take slow, steady breaths.
  • If they do not start to feel better, they should take more puffs of their reliever inhaler
  • If they do not start to feel better after taking their inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999/112.
  • They should keep taking the reliever inhaler whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive

After an asthma attack:

They should make an appointment with your doctor or asthma nurse for an asthma review, within 48 hours of their attack.
People often have a variety of different asthma inhalers and medication to control their asthma – if they are having an asthma attack it is the reliever inhaler that they need. Reliever inhalers are usually blue.

It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. First Aid for Life run specific courses covering in detail how to help someone having an asthma attack.

Please visit, or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.


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